Chloroplasts contain a 21-kDa co-chaperonin polypeptide (cpn21) formed by two GroES-like domains fused together in tandem. Expression of a double-domain spinach cpn21 in Escherichia coli groES mutant strains supports growth of bacteriophages lambda and T5, and will also suppress a temperature-sensitive growth phenotype of a groES619 strain. Each domain of cpn21 expressed separately can function independently to support bacteriophage lambda growth, and the N-terminal domain will additionally suppress the temperature-sensitive growth phenotype. These results indicate that chloroplast cpn21 has two functional domains, either of which can interact with GroEL in vivo to facilitate bacteriophage morphogenesis. Purified spinach cpn21 has a ring-like toroidal structure and forms a stable complex with E. coli GroEL in the presence of ADP and is functionally interchangeable with bacterial GroES in the chaperonin-facilitated refolding of denatured ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase. Cpn21 also inhibits the ATPase activity of GroEL. Cpn21 binds with similar efficiency to both the alpha and beta subunits of spinach cpn60 in the presence of adenine nucleotides, with ATP being more effective than ADP. The tandemly fused domains of cpn21 evolved early and are present in a wide range of photosynthetic eukaryotes examined, indicating a high degree of conservation of this structure in chloroplasts.